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THE KENTISH SAIL ASSOCIATION - A Celebration of Traditional Craft

By Julian Mannering

Photos by Seamus Masters

The 48th annual Swale Smack & Sailing Barge Match took place on Saturday 31st July and consisted of the magnificent sight of some thirty traditional vessels racing in the River Swale off Faversham and Whitstable. The organisers, the Kentish Sail Association, were delighted that, having had to cancel the event for two years due to gales and the pandemic, they were finally able to fire the starting cannon for the 22-mile race out into the Thames estuary and back to the finishing line off Faversham Creek.

Strong winds on the Friday had prevented some entrants arriving from Essex, but there were plenty of vessels to make a great spectacle. The newly built Thames barge Blue Mermaid was one of the few craft to make it over from Essex and she went on to win the Bowsprit Class. A good turnout of Kent barges – Repertor, Orinoco, Marjorie, Niagara, Edith May and the beautifully restored Cambria – had a fine day’s racing with Repertor winning the Staysail Barge Class, and Cambria the Restricted Class. There were prizes for other craft with the smack William & Mary, the smack yacht Bird of Dawning, the large gaffer Almita and the small gaffer Fifi all taking line honours in their classes.

The Swale also welcomed two traditional Dutch sailing vessels, Albatros and Johanna, the Humber keel Selby Ellen, and Lilian, the beautiful gentleman’s motor yacht, built in Stockholm in 1916, which this year acted as the Committee Boat and added another layer of old-time elegance to the day.

The Swale Match is the largest such traditional boat event on the East Coast, possibly in the country, and offers a vital celebration of these beautiful craft that still play a part around our coast and in our maritime story.


The Kentish Sail Association was formed in 1972, so 2022 will be their 50th anniversary. Those founder members who are no longer with us - Hugh Perks, Lena Reekie and Lawrie Tester-would be delighted the race still prospering and the KSA alive and well.

The north Kent coast is home to a fine collection of Thames barges and other traditional craft and there are few creeks around the Medway and Swale that are not home to a few of them. The KSA, through organising the Swale Smack and Sailing Barge Match each year and offering opportunities to youngsters to experience days afloat on these beautiful vessels, plays a part in promoting traditional sail in Kent.

If you would like to find out more about the KSA and the traditional craft of Kent, email them at and request a copy their impressive chart with details about the association and its aims.

This year the KSA has produced a beautiful calendar depicting some of the craft that took part in the 2021 Match. Copies are available for only £5.00 from the Fleur de Lis in Preston Street, Tales on Market Street bookshop in the main square and Creek Creative in Abbey Street. Proceeds go towards the costs of running the annual event. More details can be found at


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